The real key to being a productive academic writer

When we talk about productivity, we usually talk about techniques to squeeze the most out of every minute of the day. We make plans, we set goals, we find ways to be efficient.

And that’s great. I recommend all of those strategies. (Seriously - read this or this or this)

But all of those techniques are basically ways for us to wrangle our lazy, undisciplined asses into becoming productivity machines. By seeking out these strategies, we’re pretty much admitting that we’re the worst.

Sometimes we do need new approaches to motivate and inspire us, but sometimes the problem isn’t our productivity. It’s our expectations.

I used to blame myself and my bad habits when I didn’t think I was getting enough done. I punished myself for not working hard enough. I bet you do the same thing.

The one thing I know for sure about academic life is that you don’t need to find more ways to criticize yourself.

Academia is filled with brilliant, driven overachievers whose job it is to criticize and to subject their own work to criticism. It’s essential to a successful research career, but when that criticism is turned inward it can be crippling.

Many of my readers tell me that they have trouble getting started. When they think about writing, they freeze like they’re standing at the top of a 10-metre diving tower. Because they're imagining all of the reasons they can't do it and all the reasons they're not good enough. Before anyone else can judge or criticize or compare, they do it to themselves. And guess what? They’re brutal.

So. What if the real key to productivity isn’t self-discipline, but self-compassion?

What if you forgive yourself for not getting it right the first time? For writing a crappy paragraph? For not knowing everything about everything? For disappointing yourself?

Could you trust that you know enough to get started, and that you're smart enough to recognize the limits of your knowledge?

It’s okay to have high standards. It’s necessary. But when those standards are preventing you from getting anything done, it’s time to ease up. Forgive yourself, and then get to work.